Bird wins season opener as Porsche and Mercedes claim debut podiums

Formula E

Posted on

| Written by

Sam Bird and Virgin repeated their season-opening win of two years ago by rising from fifth to first in the curtain-raising race at Diriyah. He was chased home by Andre Lotterer and Stoffel Vandoorne, who ensured championship newcomers Porsche and Mercedes respectively took podium finishes on their debuts.

BMW Andretti’s Alexander Sims led the field away from pole position, pursued by the Mercedes of Vandoorne and De Vries, followed by the duelling Edoardo as Mortara and Bird. That fight allowed the top three to establish a small lead, two-and-a-half seconds separating third and fourth after five minutes of racing.

Sebastien Buemi the stopped at turn 12, close enough to an escape that it only brought out local yellow flags and avoid a Safety Car. With Nico Mueller not starting following a crash in qualifying, that left 22 cars running.

Rowland was the first driver to activate Attack Mode, at 36 minutes. He lost a modest 1.6 seconds to Maxi Guenther in ninth but in running off line, hit the extremely dusty side of the track. That left him with filthy tyres which prevented him making the most of his power boost.

Mortara and Bird were still racing closely at 32 minutes remaining but had caught the top three, letting Mortara get too close to De Vries for a moment and lock up off line. Bird minimised the damage by activating Attack Mode, but then had to wait for a drag race on the straight and another error from Mortara to first reclaim fifth from Jerome D’Ambrosio and then hunt down fourth.

Pole sitter Sims led the early laps
Sims had built a two-and-a-half second gap to Vandoorne by 30 minutes, letting him activate Attack Mode safely for the first time but the pack remained close throughout the mid-race.

Jean-Eric Vergne’s championship defence did not begin well. He pitted with 17 minutes remaining and retire. Meanwhile his former team mate Lotterer had moved up to fifth and started advancing on the podium positions, his Porsche carrying a 1% energy advantage over his rivals.

After a tense first half-hour, the front of the field came to life. Bird attacked Vandoorne, but the Mercedes driver covered him off then braked so late he forced Sims wide. Vandoorne and Sims passed the BMW Andretti man, but as Vandoorne still had to make use of the Attack Mode, Bird was assured a clear shot at the lead.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

De Vries subsequently slipped down the pack, letting Lotterer move up once again and with thirteen minutes to go Vandoorne was clinging to the lead with Bird and Lotterer immediately behind him.

Abt brought out the Safety Car
With 10 minutes remaining and a slight energy advantage, Bird was able to overtake Vandoorne for the lead – and leave the Mercedes to the clutches of Lotterer’s Porsche, still needing to make the diversion to activate Attack Mode one more time.

Suddenly, Daniel Abt was jackknifed across the track, hitting the wall after already sustaining front wing damage and bringing out the safety car in the last gasp of the race. Under a new rule for this season drivers are deducted 1kWh of usable energy for every minute the Safety Car is out. That reduced each drivers’ available total by 4kWh.

Bird made a superb restart and control the remainder of the race while Lotterer was left fighting hard to repel Vandoorne’s attempt to reclaim second. They finished in that order, with Lotterer giving Porsche a second-place finish on their Formula E debut and Vandoorne third for fellow debutants Mercedes.

But with the early signs being that this will be another close title fight and the second race of the season coming up tomorrow, Bird’s early lead in the championship could last as little as 24 hours.

Race results

1. Sam Bird – Virgin (34 Laps)
2. Andre Lotterer – Porsche +1.319
3. Stoffel Vandoorne – Mercedes +0.353
4. Oliver Rowland – Nissan EDams +0.272
5. Robin Frijns – Virgin +2.039
6. Nyck De Vries – Mercedes +0.577
7. Edoardo Mortara – Venturi +0.562
8. Alexander Sims – BMW Andretti +0.593
9. Jerome D’Ambrosio – Mahindra +0.913
10. Mitch Evans – Jaguar +0.420
11. Pascal Wehrlein – Mahindra +0.412
12. Felipe Massa – Venturi +0.706
13. Lucas di Grassi – Audi Abt +0.238
14. Antonio Felix da Costa – DS Techeetah +0.449
15. Oliver Turvey – NIO +1.319
16. James Calado – Jaguar +1.400
17. Neel Jani – Porsche +3.857
18. Maximilian Guenther – BMW Andretti +10.233*
19. Brendon Hartley – Dragon +16.557*
20. Ma Qing Ha – NIO +1L*
DNF Daniel Abt – Audi Abt
DNF Jean-Eric Vergne – DS Techeetah
DNF Sebastien Buemi – Nissan EDams
DNS Nico Mueller – Dragon

*Drivers penalised with drive-through for technical infringement.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Formula E


Browse all Formula E articles

Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

Posted on Categories Formula ETags

Promoted content from around the web | Become a RaceFans Supporter to hide this ad and others

  • 34 comments on “Bird wins season opener as Porsche and Mercedes claim debut podiums”

    1. I tried. I …. just…. can’t

      1. I kinda like FE races (have been watching on-and-off for about 3 seasons) but not as much as I like F1 or Indycar. And, in my opinion, the thing that drags it down comes actually from FE’s philosophy: all city courses, almost no variation in tracks and with very few overtaking posibilities or too narrow. This attracts carnage more than often, which might appeal to some viewers, but not me. I still like it, but I would have loved to see some real tracks used from time to time.

        1. János Henkelmann
          23rd November 2019, 1:45

          So true, it’s even hard to remember the track layout. The driver line-up is getting better and better though, and the cars are looking cool. Might take them a few more years to make the races watchable for the average racing fan…

      2. +1

        Something about it just reminds me of competitive cycling. Any sense of speed is not conveyed on TV (not that there is an awful lot anyway) and nose to tail further lessening the sensation of that.

        Big meh.

    2. BMW Andretti’s Alexander Sims led the field away from pole position, pursued by the Mercedes of Vandoorne and Paul di Resta

      @hazelsouthwell Nyck de Vries I guess?

      1. @girts oof, definitely and I am not even sure how that happened. I blame having had about three minutes of sleep since Monday >_<

        1. Sounds like you need more di Resta yourself.

    3. God I loved that race. Vandoorne’s move on Sims while defending from Bird especially, right on the edge, probably slightly over it, that was a good race. And there’s another one tomorrow! :)

    4. Watched almost every race (with a few exceptions) sofar, but now that it has moved to pay TV in Belgium (before, you could watch it online live on Facebook, and free replays on the RTBF channel), I guess I won’t watch it anymore…

      I just hope F1 doesn’t follow the same route, but I doubt it will happen : the sport is too big and they would shoot themselves in the foot if they do it, because they would cut themselves from their fanbase. Oh wait…

      1. @dan_the_mclaren_fan

        Belgium pays BBC to include programming on the various cable packages. You should be entitled to watch the BBC stream even if they blocks your location. I would use a VPN.

      2. @dan_the_mclaren_fan it’s still available as replay on auvio for free if you can manage to avoid the results for some time.

      3. You can also watch Eurosport 1

    5. Strength to strength, another great FE race. THE most competitive series in the world and so great to see the amount of manufacturers involved.

    6. It was alright but the race director was terrible. Like we complain about the F1 director sometimes but this one seemed to miss every overtake. The track though is also horrible – its so narrow the cars looked like they could pass if there was more room.

      Bird looked so much faster and aggressive than everyone else around him. For a moment there feared yet another Mercedes win…

    7. Its my first time seeing a full race.
      What I liked: wheel to wheel racing, unpredictable podium, tight corners, two days of qualifying and race, many car manufacturers, customer team winning
      What I did not like: Too short, powerboost was useless being that wide and on the dirty part of the track, support Jaguar race

    8. These types of tracks are awful

    9. Am I the only one who gets sort of an “early F1” vibe from FE?

      1. Agreed. It reminds me of F1 in the 80s when it was a bit more friendly, raw and human.

    10. When, what. I try to follow FE but I never know when it’s on.

      1. @defusion well, there’s another race tomorrow, same location.

        But I agree, the calendar is a bit hard to follow… best example: 2 races in 2 consecutive days but after that the next race is in 2 months time (Jan. 18th)

        1. Agreed, I’ve watched nearly every race and knew it was on this weekend but saw no advertising and only found out it was randomly on a Friday when I saw it live on here.

    11. Why the f is attack mode a disadvantage?

      1. @paeschli Even worst, the darn thing is mandatory (i.e. you have to use it).

      2. You have to go off line to use it, so you lose time in doing so, in some tracks more than others, but it does even out because everyone has to use it twice. And then once you’ve used it, you get 4 minutes of additional power, allowing you to more than make up for the lost time in getting to it. I think it adds an interesting tactical game.

        1. It’s just an artificial gimmick

    12. Stephen Higgins
      22nd November 2019, 17:44

      My mother was a big fan of of Filipe Massa. When I told her he was driving in FE her response was…

      “awww bless him, can’t he do something better than drive around in silly toy electric cars??”.

      1. Yeah, I have the same thing when I tell people I watch F1 – ‘isn’t that just cars going round in circles?’ and ‘it’s rubbish without refuelling now isn’t it?’.

      2. She was probably afraid that he couldn’t keep up with the field. And she was right.

    13. What utter idiot scheduled the race for a Friday? Don’t these people realise, most if not all of their target audience are work? FormulaE couldn’t do a worse job of promoting this series if they tried. Utter shambles.

      1. Matthew Restaino
        24th November 2019, 16:32

        Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country and as such Friday and Saturday is the weekend not Saturday and Sunday.

        The target audience is the local audience.

    14. Great race! … Can’t remember the last dull FE race.

      Series is getting better all the time. Love that so many manufacturers are involved.

      1. And that podium! Might be THE best podium ever!

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.
    If the person you're replying to is a registered user you can notify them of your reply using '@username'.